Chapter 29


Samael ran down the attic stairs while putting on his shoes in such a haste that he basically stumbled down the walls until he got downstairs, where he tried to steady himself. When he lifted his hand, he saw it vanishing before returning to normal. Then he did the same with the other hand. He flexed and stretched his fingers, both hands fading away until he could see through them, becoming visible seconds later. His powers were finally coming back to him.

“Everything right up there?” Enid’s voice echoed from the kitchen after his boisterous landing on the floor.

“…Yes, I’m fine! I just tripped!”

“I’m making dinner, you want to come down and eat with us?”

“Maybe later, thank you. I have to go out.”

“Take care and don’t be late!”

Samael sighed and quickly ran to the main stairs, but he’d hardly reach them when he saw Marianne already coming through the door, with an eerie calm.

“Marianne!” he rushed down, skipping steps to reach her. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to call!”

“…I forgot. I’m already here anyway.”

“Something happened?” he asked, twisting his eyebrows with concern; she seemed distracted and a little disturbed; hopefully, it wasn’t because of that guy, especially now that he’d regained some of his memories.

“N-No, it’s just… something I learned after you left. That’s all,” she quickly said, although it seemed to him that she was hiding something since she kept avoiding his gaze and fiddling with the laces of her sweater.

“Me too, actually. I was able to remember something.” He looked around to make sure that Enid was still in the kitchen and Loui was lying on the couch, but he still lowered his voice. “…I remembered who I saw with the smoke demon besides the two guys from that school. It was the boy that came today. Dreyson.”

Marianne finally had a noticeable and more fitting reaction; her distraught eyes focused on him and tightened her lips.

“…How? Did he…? Was he the one who attacked you?” she asked, thinking about what officer Perry told her.

“I couldn’t tell, I barely managed to unlock a small part of my memories, but I’m sure he was there. It’s got to worth something.”

Marianne nodded, trying to focus all her attention on it, almost grateful to have something else to distract her.

“What do you suggest we should do then? Should we face him and force him to spill it out? I know where he lives, we could go for him… if he’s not already gone.”

“No, before making any move we should call for an emergency meeting and, given the subject, we should hold it in a private place. Vicky’s house. Can you make it happen? Demian should be present too.”

She kept quiet, and although Samael had already climbed a few steps on the stairs, he stopped after noticing her change of expression.

“…Are you really okay?”

“Y-Yes! I’ll make sure everyone is informed,” she immediately answered to avoid raising his suspicion. “…Is tomorrow okay? Now it’s a little late to call everybody.”

“Tomorrow might be too late,” Samael said more to himself in a thoughtful expression, trying to reach an internal decision. “…Two hours before school at Vicky’s house. Time enough to discuss it and decide what to do next. But they all must be on time; we can’t afford absences at this point.”

Marianne nodded, and as Samael rushed upstairs, she gave a sigh and leaned back against the wall, almost hidden behind the coat hanger in the corner.

She had to send messages, inform her friends of the meeting, she had to deal with it as soon as possible… but in her head there was only one moment playing over and over again… The electric feeling of her lips… Had it really happened? She jerked her head as if she could throw those memories to the back of her mind with a sudden movement, but only managed to hit the wall with her head. She rubbed herself to undermine the pain, but not even the ache could hide the tingle that still lingered in her lips, fearing that if she were to close them, a short circuit might happen… But no, it was all in her imagination… Either that or her body had become a huge energy conduit… And Demian seemed to have felt it too. That was why he was so distraught, right? It had to be. He had realized his mistake, that was it. Like an insect drawn to the light, he’d been simply driven by some impulse, perhaps even inexplicable to him and then… it was too late.

That was it. It was regret what she’d seen in his eyes. But she had panicked and ran away before he even had a chance to apologize.

Case closed. A complete mistake. It must be it. She tried to convince herself to move on to more important issues, but that thought did nothing but torment her even more. A mistake… She had been a mistake…

The knock on the door woke Demian up. He opened his eyes with a jolt and refolded on the bed, unsure of when he’d fallen asleep. He was even wearing the same clothes as the night before.

He rubbed his eyes and the light of the day suddenly brought back the memory of what happened just a few hours earlier. In the garden. With Marianne.

“…Shit,” he uttered, pressing his hands against his eyes as if it would stop him from seeing those images.

“Brother, are you awake?” Vicky peeked through the door without waiting for him to open or invite her in. “Oh! You’re even all dressed up! Perfect. The others will be here soon.”

“Huh? Others? What are you talking about?” Demian narrowed his still sleepy eyes, trying to focus on her.

“Oops! I forgot to tell you!” she chided herself with a tap on her forehead. “Marianne sent a message yesterday. Apparently, Samuel just remembered something about the night he disappeared. They’re all coming to discuss it.”

Demian had to take several seconds to process what she said and clear the clouds of sleep. He shook his head until he was fully awake.

“You’re saying they’re all coming to talk about what he remembered… That sounds like an Angel Warrior’s meeting, why should I be present?”

“Don’t get too sensitive about it,” she said offhandedly. “You may not be technically one of us, but you are in heart. Besides, they said you should be present. Marianne asked me to tell you, but I thought she would’ve already sent you a message.”

“…Well, she didn’t,” he said, unable to hide his disappointment. She had asked Vicky to tell him, so she wouldn’t have to do it herself. If he still doubted of how she felt about his action, now he had an answer.

“Well, get yourself together and come down in five minutes.”

As soon as his sister was out, Demian got up from bed, stretched his limbs and stood by the window to look at the gates. He saw it open to make way for Belgina and Angie. They were both dressed in their uniform, and when the gate was closing again, Mitchell suddenly slipped through the bars. He reached them with a smile, although leaving some distance between them to resume their way through the garden.

Demian thought it would be very weird to go down with the same clothes from the day before, so he took a quick shower and put on his uniform while looking at times at the window. He saw the rest arrive; Lucianne, Mankee (without all his entourage, only two protecting his flanks) and even Frank, but still no sign of Marianne.

His cell phone rang, announcing an incoming message, and he was quick to take it from his desk.

‘It’s been 15 minutes. What are you doing up there?

We’re almost ready.’

Demian rolled his eyes at his sister’s text and kept the phone in his pocket. She could be so bossy sometimes.

He finally went downstairs and saw the living room packed full, everyone chatting and taking whatever Vicky offered them.

“Finally! And yet you complain whenever I’m late,” Vicky remarked jokingly, and Frank let out a not so discreet scoffing laugh.

“Looks like the seed of darkness also likes to occasionally indulge himself to look pretty,” he said, taking a glass of soda to his mouth.

Demian only glared him, and the glass suddenly trembled in Frank’s hand, emptying its contents into his face and clothes.

“Hey! That’s not fair play!”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Demian replied with a shrug.

“You got owned!” Mitchell laughed, patting Frank on the back, and causing his hand to shake again, spilling more soda all over him.

“Why haven’t you started?” Demian asked, ignoring Frank’s whinning.

“We have to wait for Marianne and Samuel. They haven’t arrived yet,” Vicky said, shrugging in resignation. Of course, Demian had noticed it, but didn’t want to say it directly and be so obvious.

“I hope it doesn’t take them so long. I don’t think Latvi will believe that I just went out for a walk,” Mankee said, sipping a cup of tea like a Lord ignoring the two men guarding his flanks behind his seat.

“You mean your not-fiancee that controls every move you make, everything you eat and what you wear and still you disavow her?” Frank interjected while drying his chest with a handkerchief. “Sorry to break it to you, princess, but you’re both practically married, you just don’t know it yet.”

“I’m not even going to grace you with an answer,” Mankee snorted, with the cup a few inches from his face. “I’m just saying that somehow she knows how to find me wherever I am. She was so grouchy yesterday, suffering from constant migraines, that I doubt she’ll have any patience at all today.”

“Ha! The headache excuse! It never gets old!” Frank retorted with a resounding laugh. Mankee grimaced but didn’t answer back.

“I’ll call them,” Vicky said, pulling out her cell phone to avoid the discussion to escalate any further, and right when she was about to make the call, a flash caught their attention. The light seemed to flicker at times, like a floodlight struggling to turn on, until they finally saw two figures materalizing amidst the glow, looking around to make sure they had reached their destination.

“All right! We made it!” Samael said with a triumphant smile and saw everyone already gathered in the living room. “And you’re all here! Perfect!”

“You finally arrived! We were waiting for you!” Vicky said, tucking back her phone while Samael already took place at the center to officially start the meeting, and Demian looked at Marianne.

She stood quietly to the side with an absent expression, her gaze briefly bumping into Demian to immediately avert her eyes, trying to find some other object to fix her attention. Her cheeks reddened despite her vain attempts to keep her mind blank. She even had dark circles around her eyes, as if she couldn’t sleep. Demian felt a sudden surge of guilt.

“I’m glad you all came here,” Samael began, but immediately stopped when he saw the two guards behind Mankee.

“Hmm? What?” Mankee asked, lowering his cup. “…Oh, is it because of them? Don’t worry, they’re trained not to hear nor see anything that’s not of their business. They don’t even understand the language.”

“It’s true,” said Mitchell next to them, passing his hand in front of their faces, but they remained immutable. “It’s almost as if they were statues adorning the room.”

“…I don’t know if I’d be comfortable talking about our private issues in front of other people,” Samael replied unconvinced.

“Look! I can tickle them, and they don’t even flinch,” Mitchell added, poking at the sides of the men, who remained still. “See? It’s like we have our own royal guards of the British Crown… only with less clothes on, but hey, who am I to judge?”

“I think we already got the point. Stop bothering those men now, you’re being disrespectful,” Lucianne snapped, and Mitchell just shrugged and returned to his seat, shaking his hands.

“Dude, it’s like they just got off the boat and brought the desert with them,” Mitchell muttered, elbowing Frank every time he shook his hands.

“…Okay,” Samael agreed to continue, trying not to pay attention to the men. “The reason we gathered you is because I finally remembered something about that night.”

“You mean the night Demian and Addalynn slept in the same bed?” Mitchell interrupted, raising his hand with a mischevious expression, receiving several slaps in response. Demian glared at him and Addalynn rolled her eyes in disgust.

“See? I wouldn’t be the only one, I told you,” Frank grinned and raised his almost empty glass in a toast-like gesture.

“Huh? I don’t know what yoou’re talking about, but I mean the moment I disappeared,” Samael continued, ignoring the references.

“Don’t listen at them and just go ahead, please,” Lucianne said, shaking her head in disapproval.

“…Okay, as I was saying. I haven’t fully recovered my memories yet, but one thing I’ve been able to remember is that I followed the smoke demon and right I when I reached it I found two of the guys from the video and one of your school mates, Dreyson,” Samael said, turning to Marianne for confirmation while Demian became tense and Addalynn’s grave expression emphasized.

“What was the freak doing there?” Frank asked, squinting in suspicion. “Are you saying that he has something to do with the Legion of darkness?”

“I wouldn’t say for sure since I only remember him being there, but I couldn’t dismiss it either… I actually decided to stop hiding when I heard him yelling.”

“Is it possible then that he was under attack?” Mitchell guessed.

“There was a more upset than fearful tone to his voice,” Samael added.

“Well, in Dreyson’s case that might mean nothing,” Vicky said. “He can be a little unpredictable.”

“Yes, we all know that. He’s a weirdo. More reason to suspect him,” Frank said. “Has anyone noticed the way he looks at you? It’s like the guy could dig into your sould and plant a whole crop of poison ivy to embitter your day. It’s really disturbing.”

“But he wasn’t like that at the beginning. It was overnight that there was a drastic change in him,” Vicky replied as she walked through the room picking up empty glasses. Marianne twisted her mouth. Physical change didn’t equal a personality change.

“It’s like… he received external help,” Belgina muttered and soon the attention was drawn to her, making her uncomfortable. “…I mean, a change of that magnitude, so drastic… He must have received some kind of external aid, perhaps even… non-human.”

Everybody exchanged glances considering her words and slowly reaching to the same conclusion.

“…The bruise in his back,” Demian said, and Samael shook his head.

“I saw it and analyzed it. It wasn’t like the bruises on those boys at the hospital. It looked like a normal bruise, I even touched it and didn’t feel any kind of energy.”

“That might mean those first bruises were probably an experiment, a first test, and whoever caused them has modified and perfected them,” Belgina suggested, caught up in her train of thought.

“Something like Frank when he was a minion for the Legion of darkness?”

“Did you have to bring it up?” Frank glared at Mitchell after his comment.

“It could be,” Samael said, stroking his chin in a reflective pose. “Perhaps, the smoke demon has to closely monitor those who have been recruited and somehow the bruising is what brands them all.”

“We know at least of another attack after the party, and we just found two from that group of guys,” Frank said, embracing the idea.

“At least two more attacks,” Samael corrected, recalling the brief memory he had grasped inside Loui’s mind. “…If the attacks have remained discreet and beyond our knowledge, it’s entirely possible that those involved have gone unnoticed to us.”

Demian shifted, displeased at the thought that he might have missed a detail of that sort. He was the only one of them that had a real connection to the Legion of Darkness, but it only served to reaffirm his status as a demon, and to top it all, an outcast one.

“We have to find them. They’re a ticking bomb if they’ve really been marked by the Legion of Darkness,” Lilith said.

“How are we supposed to do it? If they’ve somehow found the way to camouflage that kind of energy…” Frank added.

“Unless we undress everyone,” Mitchell said, expecting protests like every one of his ideas, but the others received his comment with musing silence. “…Really? Are you going to consider my proposal? Can I volunteer?”

“I’ve always known your fascination with nudism, but you’ll have to save it for your lonely nights at home,” Frank said, and before Mitchell could protest, he continued. “I think we can all agree that all of us in a sports club can be more watchful in the locker room. And we can also establish that we have at least identified Dreyson as one of them.”

“Let’s not forget we’re still basing this on guesses,” Samael reminded him, and Frank shrugged.

“We could corner him at school and get some answers, that’s not a problem.”

“…I doubt he’ll be back to school,” Samael said, glancing at Marianne, so she would participate in the discussion. She winced when she noticed all eyes on her, and felt her hands getting cold when her eyes met Demian.

“It’s true. You told us he went to your house and said he wouldn’t come for our teamwork,” Vicky said.

“Yeah, he… he said he wasn’t sure he would return to school either,” she finally said after a last breath to calm down.

“Not only that, he seemed completely out of him. He would have hurt her if I hadn’t been there.”

“Enough,” Marianne whispered, glaring at him and Demian quickly straightened after hearing that as well as Addalynn.

“Did he try to hurt you? Why didn’t you say anything?” Demian said in a tone that betrayed his chagrin, clutching his hands tightly. Marianne finally dared to look directly at him, and although she was still shaken, she did her best to look undaunted.

“…I don’t know what’s going through his head, I’m not a mind reader… All I know is that he’s been going through a difficult time lately. He’s unstable and unpredictable as you’ve mentioned, and if we also add the possibility that he’s been receiving external power from the Legion of Darkness, then we should be especially cautious.”

“The police are looking for him and his mother,” Vicky interjected. “They didn’t say why, but something must have happened in their old town, don’t you think?”

“That’s… It’s complicated,” Marianne said, avoiding Demian’s gaze to concentrate on her own thoughts. “I thought it was something Dreyson’s father had done after I saw some pictures at Lucianne’s house.” Her cousin blinked, unaware of it. “Files from a case my uncle is working in. A murder case.”

“Wait, when did you see those pictures? I couldn’t even get past one and that was enough to bring nightmares.”

“Is that it?” Vicky asked, raising her eyebrows even higher in surprise. “Did his father… murder someone?”

“That’s what I thought,” Marianne admitted. “…At least up until yesterday, when I spoke to Officer Perry. I was wrong. His father isn’t suspected of murder… He’s the victim.”

Silence gripped the room for such a long time that some of them began to wonder if they’d become deaf. They exchanged alarmed looks, aware of the seriousness of the matter, if their suspicious turned to be right.

“…A normal person under the control of the Legion of Darkness is already dangerous enough,” Lucianne finally spoke to break the eerie silence. “…But someone who already has certain tendencies…”

“You don’t even have to say it,” Frank interrupted her with a loud snort, and throwing his head back as if the whole thing started to weigh on him. “We need to track him down. To find him ASAP.”

Addalynn suddenly straightened up and left the room in silence to their confusion.

“…I think it’s time for school,” Vicky said, looking at her watch. “Perhaps depending on what happens today we could analyze our options.”

Everyone seemed to agree and prepared to leave, quieter than usual. Demian was still trying to assimilate the discussion, but kept looking at Marianne. He needed to reach her before she left and stopped several steps behind her.

“…Marianne.” Her shoulders shook with a jolt and turned to him with a shot of panic across her eyes. “…We need to talk.”

Marianne’s lips almost quivered when she opened her mouth, but no sound came out of her, she just looked to her sides, making sure the others weren’t watching.

“Marianne,” Samael called her from the door, causing her another start. If she continued like that, she would have to ask Angie for her cardiologist number. “Are you coming?”

“You can come with us if you want; there’s enough room in the car,” Vicky said as she ran back and forth, putting on her jersey and taking her belongings.

Marianne hesitated, feeling caught between two fires. She looked back at Demian; he seemed impatient with his intense eyes fixed on her. So intense that she couldn’t stop thinking of his expression after… after that kiss. Just the thought of it, she felt the heat building up in her cheeks. She couldn’t handle it just yet. Not right now.

“…I’m coming,” she finally said, rushing after Samael at the door, and returning one last glance at Demian before leaving.

“Ouch!” Mitchell said, walking past Demian and patting him on the back.

“That was ruthless,” Frank seconded with his unshakable mocking grin.

“…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Demian snapped, stripping his face from any kind of emotion.

“Whatever, champ,” Frank replied with the same taunting expression while they left, and Demian decided to walk away.

“I’ll go get Addalynn and we’ll be good to go. I don’t know what’s gotten into her this time. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of understanding Marianne and Samuel have; it would make things easier,” Vicky said, running up the stairs, and Demian just grunted.

“Did something happen between you and Demian?” Samael asked, and Marianne almost stumbled. They were following their friends on their way to school, so she quickly glanced at them.

“…W-Why are you asking that?”

“I don’t know, there just seemed to be this kind of strange aura between you two during the meeting,” Samael shrugged. “Did you argue or something?”

“Nn-Yes…That’s it. Just a little discussion. Nothing else,” she said, quickening her pace to the point of almost jogging and Samael tried to keep up with her. “…And don’t you dare to read my mind! I’ll know if you even try.”

She was clearly hiding something, but the angel decided to keep his comments to himself, knowing she wouldn’t budge a bit when she was in that mood. He just hoped she would stay focused on the investigation that lay ahead.

“I need to speak to Loui later,” he said, changing subject. “When he let me enter his mind, I caught a few scraps of memories of what seems to be another attack. One we didn’t know about.”

“You mean he was present in another attack and didn’t say anything to us?”

“I’m just guessing, that’s why I need to speak to him. We don’t know what reasons he may have had.”

“…Okay. We’ll have a chance to do that. Let’s just focus on the hidden bruises first.”

“Yeah. Let’s focus on that,” Samael repeated, emphasizing the words as a subtle hint for her, and Marianne just threw a warning glare at him to say no more.

Just like Marianne had said, Dreyson didn’t show up to classes, which left them with only one option: looking for carriers of bruises, if there was any at school. Which, of course, was quite difficult with the number of students.

“Should we try in the locker room?” Lilith whispered in Marianne’s ear as they arrived at the auditorium for basketball practice.

The guys from the boys’ team were already sitting in the background, laughing among them with carefree attitude, as if telling some funny story. Marianne noticed that everyone was already wearing their training outfits, as if they had previously agreed to arrive earlier.

Feeling watched, they suddenly fell silent and turned to them in synchrony, staying like that for several seconds, expressionless. She shivered and followed Lilith to the locker room, while the rest of the boys returned to their conversation as if nothing had happened.

They found Lucianne inside the dressing room, and despite having already changed, she quickly approached them, pretending to tie her shoelaces againd and again to justify her presence there.

“…This is useless. I’ve looked around as much as I could, but if I do it without discretion it would make them suspicious… and I think I’ve already made some of them uncomfortable,” Lucianne murmured.

Scattered through the room, the girls were in the midst of changing clothes, some of them looking warily at Lucianne, and then turning their backs in an attempt to mantain what little privacy they got.

“Let me take a look around,” Lilith said, going for a stroll around the room.

“This won’t help at all,” Lucianne whispered, shaking her head.

Marianne said nothing but agreed; there were parts of the body where the bruises could be hidden and would be impossible to check. They should have planned it better.

The door opened again and Kristania entered, carrying her purse that seemed an extension of her as of late.

“…Oh. There seems to be a team meeting,” she said, hesitant for a moment, but soon recovering herself. “Have I missed something?”

“Looks like you’ve been getting a little late to practice lately.”

“I was distracted by a friend and time just passed,” Kristania answered, moving towards her locker. “I would say we’re in the same conditions right now. We both need to change, don’t you think?”

She smiled and then walked to the bottom of the room. She was keeping her purse stuck to her side, and Marianne squinted with suspicion, but her concentration was broken by the sound of her phone.

“What is it?” Lucianne asked when she saw her expression after reading the message.

“…It’s Samuel. He collapsed again during class. He’s now in the coffee shop with Mitchell. I’ll go check on him,” Marianne said, keeping the phone in her pocket and turning to the door.

Once out of the dressing room, she saw Demian just about to enter the locker room and they both halted a few feet apart. They fell silent, but the tension was palpable. Marianne could almost swear the room temperature had dropped drastically, feeling a slight tremor from the top of her fingers.

Demian made the gesture to say something, but she didn’t give him a chance. She turned around and bolted to the door with apparently no one interested in her sudden departure, not even the coach who seemed too busy looking at a list.

The coffee shop wasn’t crowded at the time, and most customers weren’t even students. Still, Mitchell and Samael were in the same booth next to the door: the angel with a towel pressed against his forehead while the other noisily slurped from a milkshake.

Marianne sat next to Samael, laying a hand on his shoulder, and he opened his eyes with flinch.

“What was it now?”

“Who knows. We’d just finished class, and when I turned around, he was already on the ground,” Mitchell explained with a shrug, still sipping from his milkshake. “We brought him here. Demian and I. And while I decided to stay with Samuel, he left for his club.”

So, that was why he was late. She wondered if he was about to tell her about Samael when she fled. She shook her head to stop thinking about it and focused on the angel.

“I thought you were feeling better already.”

“I was. But I began to feel ill again at school,” Samael said, pulling off the towel from his forehead. “But it’s already receding.”

“What do you think it is? This isn’t normal anymore.”

“Well, technically nothing about him is normal. His very existence defies the law of physics and what everyone would consider normal, and following that line, you could also say that about us,” Mitchell said with one last slurp of his milkshake and tossing the glass aside. “Maybe it’s just exhaustion over using his powers. The first days I practiced the transfiguration, I was completely drained by the end, feeling dizzy and nauseous. I now can last a little longer, but I eventually need a break to recover.”

“…No, there’s something else. I can feel that something’s wrong.”

Mankee got out of the kitchen, carrying a glass with what looked like iced tea and settled it in front of Samael.

“This should make you feel better. It’s a special tea from my town. It’s hard to find the herbs right here, but Latvi brought some from home.”

“And where is this lovely girlfriend of yours that you always deny?” Mitchell asked, leaning back in his seat with a sly smile.

“She’s not my—” Mankee began to say but stopped, aware that he would just be giving him a reason to keep poking at him, so he just snorted. “…She’s still indisposed since yesterday. She’s locked in her room trying to avoid the light.”

“Avoiding the light like a demon would! That doesn’t sound suspicious at all,” Mitchell said as lightly as usual.

“…And that comment wasn’t bigotted at all,” Mankee snapped, almost indignantly, but Samael apparently took it seriously.

“Would she agree to come here just to take a look at her?”

Mankee seemed incredulous that he would be playing along Mitchell, but didn’t even bother to reply, knowing he would accomplish nothing.

“…Just so you know, this is outrageous,” Mankee said, going back to the kitchen. Mitchell then laughed again, pushing himself forward.

“Do you really think she could be a victim or you’re just trolling the guy?”

“Troll…what? I just want to make sure of something,” Samael said without understanding his reference and Mitchell gave a snort in response.

“Too good to be true. And here I was about to take pride in it.”

“You really think it might have something to do with the fake bruises thing?” Marianne interjected cautiously. She hadn’t mentioned about the kind of session that had taken place in the attic, and wasn’t sure either if she wanted him to know after what happened in it.

“I don’t know, I just want to take a look for now.”

Mankee returned after a few minutes. Latvi walked beside him with a veil covering her face and still raising her hands against the sun coming through the windows.

“I hope it’s important. I only came here because my prince asked, and I live to serve him,” the girl snapped, stopping in front of the table, and putting her hands to her temples to massage them.

“Could you take off the veil for a moment, please?” Samael asked, and she turned to him as if barely noticing his presence.

“…Oh, I see you’re back. I guess it worked then.”

Samael frowned and Marianne tried to discreetly sign her through glances to keep quiet, but only Mankee seemed to notice.

“Why don’t you just do as he asks? It will be just for a moment,” Mankee suggested, and although she snorted wearily, she pulled off the veil as he asked and narrowed her eyes, blinking when the light hit her rhetinas until her sight seemed to settle.

“Now what? Should I jump on one foot and recite the alphabet? Just to clarify, I would if my prince ordered it, but I wouldn’t be happy at all.”

“You’re being rude,” Manke whispered, and she quickly forced a smile, bending for a curtsy.

“Pardon my manners; maybe when I get over this migraine, I’ll be able to keep being the perfect submissive fiancée everyone expects me to be,” she snapped in a tone that said otherwise.

Samael watched her intently when they heard the doorbell and she put her hands to her temples again.

“I can’t work like this!” she said with a hint of weariness in her voice. “I won’t ever understand why my prince would rather stay here than go back home! So many dark auras polluting around!”

Samael reacted with an expression of immediate recognition, and just by one look at Marianne she seemed to know everything she needed. They both gave a quick look around and tried to watch the customers, but no one seemed to pay attention or act strangely.

“That’s it. That’s the reason. They must be everywhere… and we have no way to prove it,” Samael said, looking back at her.

“May I go before this headache gets worse or you need me for something else?” Latvi added, massaging her temples, and ignoring their words.

Samael turned to her, this time watching her with more interest, as if he saw her in a different light.

“…That would be all. Thank you.”

After a brief bow, Latvi put the veil back on and returned to the kitchen.

“…What was that? What did that whole scene mean?” Mankee asked.

“Haven’t you noticed?” Samael asked, but seeing the boy’s puzzled face, he just shook his head. “…We don’t have time for this. If there are more marked people, it will complicate things for us. We have to go for the only one we have more reasons to suspect.”

Marianne nodded, feeling confident for the first time all day now that she could focus on something else to keep her mind distracted.

“It doesn’t seem to be anyone inside,” Frank said, watching the entrance of the house from a short distance. Marianne and Samael were beside him and Addalynn —who had strangely decided to join— was a little behind.

“We didn’t expect otherwise,” Marianne replied, taking a breath to approach the door.

The plan was to look for any clues that they could find about Dreyson and her mother’s whereabouts, or at least something that belonged to him in order to track him down. The rest of the team also had their own tasks. Lucianne was sent along Mitchell to the police station to find out everything they could about the case involving Dreyson’s father —which included Mitchell posing as commissioner Fillian. Angie and Lilith had stayed in the coffee shop with Mankee, trying to identify possible bruise carriers. Belgina was with Vicky, trying to calculate an estimate of the amount of ‘marked ones’ since the very first attack considering all kinds of variables. And Demian… even though Marianne had feared he would decide to join them, he instead decided to go look for the guys with bruises they had already identified. And despite her concerns, she didn’t say anything. She just didn’t feel ready to face him yet.

“Hello? Is someone home?” Marianne called out, trying to peek through the closed window after knocking on the door, but there was no answer.

“If the police are looking for them, I doubt they’ve stayed. If they’re clever, they should be heading north right now, in the trunk of a bus,” Frank said, pushing her aside to look at the window too and then taking a couple of tiny tools from his pocket to force the lock.

“…If someone’s watching right now, it will be us the police will be looking for,” Marianne snapped, looking around uncomfortable.

“If I recall, this was your idea, so stop complaining already,” Frank said, maneuvering some kind of pin inside the lock until there was a click and the door opened. “Locksmiths Krunick to your service; there’s no door that can resist us nor lock immune to my charms. Come in and make yourself comfortable.”

They all got inside the house, carefully watching every corner they passed by, hoping to find something useful to them, but the place still looked austere and impersonal, like the last time they had been there for teamwork. Bare walls, little to no furniture at all, not a single sign that it had been inhabited. They were clearly ready to leave if necessary.

“Okay, Marianne and I will check upstairs. You two keep looking around here,” Samael beckoned them to get on with it immediately.

The stairs creaked under their weight, and the railing was splintered, so they had to be careful where to settle both hands and feet.

“What are we trying to find?” Marianne asked.

“Remember when Frank was being controlled by the Legion of Darkness? In exchange he also received rewards, not only power. Anything that doesn’t fit here, something that draws attention. I don’t think an increase in his physical capacity is all he got in return.”

Marianne nodded, remembering he always carried his school bag that seemed heavier than normal. If only they could find it…

They reached the top of the stairs and saw there were only two more rooms at opposite ends, with a bathroom in the middle. They exchanged looks, knowing what they should do next, and Marianne pointed at the room right in front of them.

“I’ll go check this one. If I find anything, I’ll let you know.”

Samael didn’t seem comfortable with the idea of splitting up, but tried to keep calm, knowing that they would be just a few feet away. So, once they split, Marianne cautiously opened the door she had upfront.

There was a single bed in a corner next to a window that didn’t even have a great view of the city, just the back yard of another house. There was also a rickety table to one side with an empty glass. Nothing that indicated who owned the room, not a single personality trait. Absolutely nothing. It was kind of sad.

She took a deep breath, trying to shake that feeling away, and began to walk the room in search for something that could help them. There was an old closet at the bottom, and it was the first thing she decided to check. She found some clothes inside: a couple of shirts and worn denim pants hanging from several clothespins. That should be Dreyson’s room then, and those were the remnants of what they decided to leave behind. Marianne took them down and folded them. Perhaps they could use them later to track him. She resumed the search, checking the closet and drawers more thoroughly without finding anything useful. It was all empty for the most part.

She shut the drawers with frustration and leaned in the closet, trying to think where else to look, where could anyone hide something in an almost empty room? She stood there for a moment until her eyes fell on the bed and the dark space below. She quickly walked to that point, leaving the clothes on the bed, and bending on her knees to look under.

It was all dark. The position of the window made it difficult for the light to hit that corner, and she couldn’t even make out a silhouette of what might be under the bed. She breathed in to muster her courage, and impulsively reached out for anything that could be hiding there. She had to recognize that despite the austerity at every step, everything was spotlessly clean. Not a trace of dust or cobwebs, not even under the bed.

She felt the ground carefully, trying not to leave an inch of floor unswept, increasingly losing hope of finding anything, until she suddenly ran into something big and heavy. Assuming what it was, she pulled and dragged it out from under the bed. She took a breath after seeing it. Dreyson’s school bag. Jackpot.

Her hands quickly pounced on it, in search of some zipper while different scenarios of what she could find inside were projected in her mind. It was as full as she remembered and weighed just as much; she had no idea how he managed to carry it everywhere. After struggling with the knot for several minutes, she finally untied it and took a deep breath before opening it.

She did it slowly, cautiously, as if once she opened it, a beast would come out and attack her. When the zipper finally reached the top, she took a look inside. Books. The bag was filled with books.

“…No, no, no,” she muttered, disappointment creeping over her. A school bag full of books, what else could you expect?

But no, she wouldn’t give up just yet. Perhaps whatever they were looking for was hidden inside, so she rummaged the contents, trying to glimpse something in the bottom, anything that wouldn’t match. She took the books out slowly, but while the backpack emptied, her hopes fainted again. She checked each compartment, searched for some hidden pocket, and found nothing but pens and pencils.

Discouraged, she dropped her arms, not knowing what else to do. She then noticed one of the books from the pile next to her. The cover looked familiar. She reached out and pulled it closer to her face. ‘Paradise lost’ by John Milton.

It was the same exact edition with special hardback she had seen at Demian’s house. It had to be a coincidence. She opened the book on the first page and saw a handwriting.

‘Dear Demian:

The world is much more than you can see.

And you’re the one who decides your role in it.’

Marianne set her eyes again in the pile of books, and driven by a feeling, she began taking one by one to see the titles. There were many classic books, mostly editions she had already seen in Demian’s personal library. How had they ended up in Dreyson’s backpack? When did he have the time to take them?

She pushed several books aside, and among them she saw a couple of magazines that didn’t match the rest of the contents… and yet she also recalled them. They were the ones Dreyson had been looking at a store when she ran into him one day. Right before the whole makeover thing.

She didn’t understand, why would he keep that kind of things? Was he kleptomaniac? She continued poking around among the books, making a mental inventory of them, until her hand stopped against a copy that stood among the others for its size and because it had no remarkable title, but that didn’t stop her from recognizing it.

She immediately pulled it from the pile and burst it open right in the middle to prove her suspicion. A series of photos spread over the two pages: a six-year-old version of herself, staring wearily back at her, forced to pose with different dresses.

She remembered that day, her mother tried to keep her posing for a painting, but she was so restless and kept disheveling her dress all the time that she decided to take the pictures to use them as references in the future. And so on and so forth for the next five years, gathering all those pictures in a single album for each time she had artistic block. And now it was there, in a pile of stolen books and magazines of dubious source.

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

A shiver ran down Marianne’s spine, raising her face to discover the window open and Dreyson sitting on its frame, with his bare feet on the mattress. He wore plain pants and a white cotton shirt, his hair falling in strands on his face but, not so unkempt like before. His lips curled into a crooked smile that made her shudder. She wasn’t going to panic. She wouldn’t give him that.

“…Why do you have this?” she asked, showing her album. “…It doesn’t belong to you. None of this is yours.”

“Souvenirs,” he replied nonchalantly, his feet still on the mattress with no apparent intention of moving.

Marianne noticed then that his toenails were completely black, not as if they were painted, but as if they had grown that way. So that was how he was receiving demonic influence.

“…Why? What did you want?” Marianne asked, and he just cocked his head in an inquisitive expression. “Why would you sell your soul like that? Just to increase your physical abilities? To get more attention? Or maybe to be a different person than you were with your father?”

If that had any effect on Dreyson, he didn’t show. He just sat in the window, as if it were the most normal thing to do, and after several seconds he outlined an intriguing smile.

“…Funny thing, you may be on to something. But for now we have company.”

Marianne turned to the door, expecting to see Samael, but it was Addalynn who was standing there, glancing puzzled from one to the other.

“Addalynn, what…?” She didn’t finish her sentence; a hand covered her mouth and another one held her tight, immobilizing her. Her eyes widened when she realized her mistake.

“Now, let’s not get difficult, all right?” Dreyson whispered in her ear as she looked at Addalynn, trying to convey her with her eyes to do something, but when she opened her mouth no sound came from her, as if her throat was paralyzed, and just clutched her neck, with bewildered eyes. Dreyson began to pull Marianne toward the window. “We’ll just go for a walk.”

She wouldn’t wait for Addalynn to get out of her state and do something about it. Marianne closed her eyes and concentrated all of her power. Every muscle in her body tensed, as if about to fight back, but instead she ended up projecting all that accumulated energy outside of her, hitting Dreyson with such intensity that he was pushed to the window where he grabbed the frame, looking surprised at her unexpected action.

Marianne had just gotten up, breathing heavily after the effort, and suddenly caught a glimpse of a lightning passing like a flash by her side, impacting directly in Dreyson’s chest, who eventually let go and fell out of the window.

She turned befuddled toward Addalynn. With her hand still outstretched and clenched teeth, she stared back at Marianne, as if trying to justify herself without words. After their exchange, they both ran to the window, fearing what they would find. In the best case there would be an unconscious body lying two stories below.

The two girls slowly bent over the window, fearing the worst-case scenario, but to their surprise there was nothing down there. They once again exchanged another silent look, and the sound of footsteps hurrying inside the room caught their attention.

“What was that? I thought I heard some noise like a struggle,” Frank said, breaking into the room, ready for action. Marianne immediately jumped out of the bed and ran past Frank, going down the hall to the bottom room, pushing the door open. Samael was lying face down on the floor, unconscious.

She knelt and turned him over, shaking him to bring him back to conscience while Frank and Addalynn also entered the room.

The angel finally opened his eyes with a dazed expression and she allowed herself to sigh in relief.

“What happened? Why were you on the floor?”

“I was checking the closet,” Samael explained, sitting up and taking his hand to his neck. “I felt something, a presence, so I pulled some clothes away and suddenly, out of nowhere, this woman with dark glasses appeared. It was so unexpected that I didn’t get to stop her. She knocked me down, and after that… nothing. I lost consciousness. I was careless, I’m sorry.”

Marianne looked into the closet with the door open and garments aside, still hanging on their hooks. She pictured Dreyson’s mother hidden there, for how long? Were they waiting for them? Was she being manipulated too?

“We have to get out of here, we won’t find anything else,” she decided to take control of the situation while helping him up. “Frank, can you pick the books scattered in the other room? We’re taking them. We must warn the others to drop whatever they’re doing to meet with us. Addalynn…” She could see Addalynn was still puzzled. Her silence was unnatural, and seeing her shaken out of her usual stoicism was difficult. “…Try contacting with Vicky, okay? Let her call the others. We’ll get there once Samuel recovers.”

“We have to go home first,” Samael said, rejecting her help to stand up by himself. “I need to ask Loui a couple of questions.”

Marianne agreed, so they made a first stop at home, and although Frank decided to go for Lucianne and Mitchell instead, Addalynn did join them, staying in the living room while waiting for them to do whatever they had to.

“What do you want?” Loui asked, pulling his walkie-talkies away and trying to hide them under his pillow when he saw Samael and Marianne entering his room.

“He wants to ask you some questions,” Marianne pointed at Samael and Loui slouched in his bed.

“I need to know something, and I hope you tell me truth. The video you recorded once wasn’t the only time you ran into the yellow-eyed demon, right? I know this because I saw it in your memories for just one second, but apparently you wanted to hide it, why?”

The boy looked away and began to bite his lip anxiously. He didn’t want to talk about it, the moment he decided to leave his bullies to their fate. What did that make him? Definitely not the hero he aspired to be some day.

“You know those kids from the second attack, right?” Samael continued. “We need to know who they are, take us to them. If our assumptions are correct, they’re at great risk and could be dangerous to others.”

Loui finally dared to look up and turned alternately from the angel to Marianne, who stood aside with folded arms and a frown, clearly upset that she was just finding out about such a thing.

“I… I can make them come,” the boy replied.

“Are you sure? You can just tell us where to find them and we’ll do the rest. It may not be nice to watch,” Samael suggested, and Loui shook his head, convinced that this could be his chance to redeem himself.

“I can do it. They will come if I ask them to.”

Samael nodded and with a look that seemed to tell Marianne it was done, she pulled out her phone and left the room to make a call. Samael took the time to add something else now that he was alone with Loui.

“…Listen. There’s something else I didn’t want to say in front of Marianne not to worry her.” Loui looked at him warily, wondering what he meant. Had he seen him cowardly escape from the scene? He hoped not. He’d done everything possible to keep those memories hidden when he’d allowed him to access his mind, and still there was that glimpse that now placed them in the currect situation. “You’ve met him twice so far as I know. Apparently, he even knew about your presence… and still didn’t attack you once?”

He couldn’t say he had thought about it seriously. He remembered the guy glancing at him with golden eyes glowing in the dark and smiling as if he was showing off. It hadn’t occured to him that he could have also attacked him if he wanted, he just thought he considered him too insignificant to hunt down.

“Tell me then… did he ever touch you?” The question was so unexpected that Loui looked almost horrified by the suggestion, but then remembered it was the angel and doubted he even meant it with that intention.

“No! I just… fled. He didn’t even bother to follow me,” he said, recalling again and again the wicked smiles directed at him after discovering his presence. Samael just nodded without erasing his expression, as if something else worried him but didn’t dare to say it. He just stood up and walked to the door.

“All right. Call those friends of yours and ask them to come here. Maybe we still have time to save them,” he said, closing the door behind him.

As soon as he was out, Loui hastily pulled his walkie-talkie from under his pillow and pressed the button.

“Attention. I have new orders. You must return immediately to the base, did you hear? Come right away.”

White noise echoed through the speaker while he waited for a response, until he finally heard the crunch of incoming communication.

“…Found something… Looks like the hooded guy again… Tracked him to the abandoned park… Doesn’t seem to have noticed our presence.” The communication sounded brisk, but clear enough to understand.

“Abort the mission. You must come to the headquarters ASAP.”

“He’s been dragging some packages into the building… Can’t be sure, but look like bodies… We’ll go check when he leaves.”

“No, no! I’ve told you to abort!” Loui repeated, but received no answer, only the sound of static. He hesitated for several seconds, wondering what to do, how to explain that he’d been sending the three boys to the streets as if they were some kind of vigilantes, waiting for some mysterious figure to appear? If something happened to them, it would be his responsibility; after all, they just followed his command, they had no choice.

He clenched his teeth and fists until finally throwing the transmitter to the bed and walking to the door. First, he looked at the hallway and saw Marianne and Samael at the bottom, talking. They weren’t paying any attention to him. He scooted to the stairs and quickly went down, trying not to make any noise. He quietly took a jacket from the hanger and was putting it on when he realized Addalynn watched him curiously, standing beside one of the couches in the living room.

For a moment he stopped, thinking she would alert the others, but instead she just looked at him as if he were a little mouse coming out of hiding. She didn’t even move. So, Loui finished adjusting his jacket and wordlessly became that little mouse, cautiously coming out from his hole to then run to its next target. He knew it very well after all; it was the park where he had witnessed the first attack from the hooded guy. The one with the yellow eyes. He shivered at the thought and while running, he checked if he had his phone in his pocket. It might become handy later.

When the park was closer, he started to slow down and became more careful. The sun was setting down and some lamps weren’t on yet, so he had nothing but the dim light of the fading sun to illuminate his way. Behind the fence he could see three heads sticking and he went straight to them, trying to stay behind the fence too.

“What are you doing? I told you to leave.”

“The guy’s gone,” the boy with the brush head said, pointing at the entrance of the demolished building. “He left his charge inside and left.”

“Let’s see what’s in there,” the one with the crooked teeth suggested with his eyes fixed on the dark entrance.

Loui’s mouth twisted, aware that it would be too reckless, and he’d already risked too much by leaving his house to go after them, his bullies, but curiosity had piqued, and he wanted to see what was hiding there.

“…Just one look. We’ll just take a look from outside and then back at the base. There’s something really important to do over there.”

The four kids moved away from the fence and waded it, mingling with the shadows on the ground even though the street was empty. In fact, Loui hadn’t even seen one single person in his way, which seemed a bit unusual given that it wasn’t late night. But he didn’t think about it at the moment, in his mind there was only eagerness to know what was inside the building and then go home.

“Can anyone see anything?” The taller boy asked, narrowing his eyes to look inside.

“It’s too dark. Did someone bring a flashlight?” the brush head kid said.

Loui was the last one to cautiously lean out as they search in their pockets until someone took out a flashlight and pointed it to the floor. The light gradually advanced through the dirty concrete floor until revealing what looked like someone’s feet lying on the floor. The light beam trembled among whispers of “I told you so”, but instead of releasing the flashlight and take off running, the light continued to scope the motionless body to make sure what they were seeing.

“Aim at the face,” the brush head boy whispered while Loui felt his stomach trying to pump out of his throat, pushing his heart out as he saw the shaky light beam approaching the face. It was already reaching the neck when the body suddenly jumped up, causing them to drop the flashlight, wich rolled to its feet. The four of them stepped back before becoming paralyzed when they saw the feet starting to walk towards them.

Loui wished he wouldn’t have left home.

“I asked Mankee to come as soon as he can,” Marianne said, putting down her cell once the call finished. “I didn’t tell him what for so he wouldn’t stress out, but I think he suspects something.” Right at that moment, her phone began to vibrate and they both exchanged looks after seeing it was Lucianne. “…Hello?”

Things aren’t going well around here. Something happened. There’s a lot of movement.

“What? But are you okay? What’s going on?”

Some riots in different parts of the town. But that’s not why I’m calling. You asked me to find out a little more about the murder case, well… there was an update yesterday. They found something else in the same house they found the body in the first place… Another body.” Marianne paused for a second, trying to process what that meant. Another body. Another corpse. Was someone else killed there? Who then? “Are you still there?

“…Yeah. Do they… have any idea of who it is?”

Well… that’s the thing. According to the analysis, the body they found belongs to murdered man’s son…That means Dreyson.

Marianne’s heart skipped a beat and felt her throat soaring. That was impossible. If they had found Dreyson’s body in the same place his father had been killed, then who…?

She stared at Samael, who was waiting patiently, and a panicked glance conveyed him the twisted turn things had taken.

Loui managed to move his feet, but they felt too heavy, making only two more steps back, and although he wasn’t proud at all of what he was about to do, he couldn’t think of anything else at the moment.

“…Attack,” Loui said with trembling voice. The three boys looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “…Stop him! Go for him! I command you!”

With betrayed expressions, aware that he was sending them to a certain death, the three boys charged against the guy, approaching from the shadows, but he only had to raise his hand and move his index finger and they suddenly stopped, standing still like mesmerized.

“…What are you doing? I told you to attack him! That’s an order!” Loui said, trying not to panic, but his shaky voice couldn’t lie, he was already invaded by it and when he heard the guy laughing, slowly coming out to the light, he felt his blood run cold.

“Did you really think they were following your orders just because?” The guy started talking, passing the three boys who only followed him with their gazes, like watching a god. Loui twitched and thought about running away, run as fast as his legs allowed him, but they had become stone. They didn’t respond anymore. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they were just following orders because I made them do it.”

When the guy came under the light of the recently lit but flicerking lamps of the park, illuminating his gray hood, the chilling terror that had gripped the kid sealed out. Several silent figures began to gather on the street, leaving their homes and forming into groups with military discipline, blank stares like robots. Within seconds, the kid saw the park surrounded by dozens of people acting like unwilling dolls, with dark spots on their skin as if they contracted some form of aggressive chicken pox.

“…Now, you’ll come with me.”

Taking off the hood from his head, Dreyson smirked while Loui could only watch helplessly the trap in which his recklessness and his own self-indulgement had led him to.